Davey Lane, in his own words, was a nerdy kid, prone to obsessions.
“My grandfather was a fighter pilot and then a commercial pilot, so for a few years I was obsessed with aviation. Then it was space and especially the Soviet space program, which had an added element of mystery and intrigue to it. It was the usual things that young boys get obsessed about.”
Then came the pivotal point: Lane’s father brought home a copy of The Who’s classic compilation album Who’s Better, Who’s Best.
“I was about eight or nine and I remember it like yesterday, that moment when My Generation started and I went, “What is this!” Then we got The Kids Are Alright documentary and as soon as I saw Pete Townshend play guitar I said: “I want to do that.” I was painfully introverted as a kid, terrible at communicating. I started to embrace music not only for the pure joy of it but as a way of communicating and expressing myself that I wasn’t able to do in words."
When he did get a guitar, the first thing he attempted was the opening to The Who’s Pinball Wizard, that furious Townshend-ian strum which plenty of guitarists never master. “I realised I had to walk before I could run so it was back to the Peter Gunn Theme and House of the Rising Sun like everyone else."
The course of his life was set. At 18 he played lead guitar on a nationwide tour with Tim Rogers. When You Am I reconvened that year, Lane joined the band.
As a member of You Am I, he has been part of some of the greatest Australian rock albums of the past 20 years. Outside the band, his skills as a guitarist led to the kind of experiences that nerdy kids might have dreamed about, touring with Crowded House and Jimmy Barnes, playing shows with pop-rock giant Todd Rundgren. Lane added his distinctive guitar tones to albums from artists such as Charles Jenkins and the Zhivagos, Chris Bailey & The Saints, and the final two albums from Australian rock legend Jim Keays of The Master’s Apprentices.
In the 2000s, he made two albums with his band The Pictures and in 2014 released solo debut Atonally Young, followed by 2017’s I’m Gonna Burn Out Bright, albums which reveal the broadening range of his songwriting and musical palette.
All that time he was watching and listening, learning at close quarters from the greats. He has never been interested in chart positions or red carpets. Lane says: “What I have always wanted is to get better at what I love, playing instruments, singing, writing, producing.”
Some songwriters arrive almost fully formed and make their great record when they are 20. Lane took the long way around but all that experience has been brought into focus on his third solo album, Don’t Bank Your Heart On It. It truly signals his arrival as a songwriter and singer to match his musical skills.
He has done it with an album that features some of his great musical allies, from Rogers, Barnes and Rundgren to English songwriter Robyn Hitchcock, psych maven Stu Mackenzie of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and Tommy Stinson of The Replacements.
“I wanted it to be like a dream mixtape of some of my favourite artists but with songs I had written myself,’’ Lane says. “I’ve worked with some incredible folks, many of them I am proud to call friends. They helped me through the sometimes arduous, ultimately life-affirming experiences that informed these songs.
“All my favourite records when I was growing up were like this, flitting from one thing to another, putting different songs and sounds up against each other to create sparks.”
Don’t Bank Your HeartOn It swings from stomping glam-rock to wondrous orchestral psych-pop, from synth instrumental I Look Inside to the ‘60s-tinged melodic glories of Beguile Me, Palindrome and Affection’s Walking the Wires.
As the title suggests, the lyrical theme is deeply personal, about moving on both physically and emotionally, following the arc of a relationship breaking down, through pain and guilt to acceptance and hope.
The album cover shot is of the steps near Lane’s old flat in Melbourne’s Thornbury.
“When I started writing songs, lyrics were tricky for me and I recognised as a 19-year-old that I hadn’t lived enough for the words to be a natural thing. The ebbs and flows of my life in the past three years have given me that. As the album took shape I realised the songs would fit together in an order of the events that inspired them.
"For the first time, I feel like I’m not just writing lyrics that feel good phonetically but I have written an album that really means something. I am laying my heart onto the tape.”
The album opens with I’ll Swim Ashore, which began life as a gentle acoustic guitar ballad but flowered as Lane added keyboards via his laptop while touring with The Stems in Europe. Lane says: “When I hear this I think of driving through the Swiss Alps and chugging on a hip flask of schnapps, which is nice considering the imagery of the song is a little on the bleak side!”
A Clear Road strips the sound back to the essentials of guitars, harmonica and voice; Never Ever Comin’ Back Again is a rock anthem complete with twin lead guitars, originally written to be performed on Rockwiz and featuring Tommy Stinson of The Replacements on bass. The first single, You Were a Mirage, is a soaring pop song, bold and musically colourful while charting emotional pain.
Gotcha Money on Yr Mind powers along on a crunching guitar riff with a screaming vocal for the chorus that is way above Lane’s range as a vocalist. Nic Cester sang the part on a demo version and for the album, Jimmy Barnes does the honours. Lane says: “It’s a sentiment most people I know can empathise with. Money’s all very well but when it’s a driving motivation for living you’ve lost me.”
I’ll Set U Free is a collaboration with Stu Mackenzie that is part punk, part psychedelia. “It came from an experimental way of working with other artists. You record the song to play on a stereo with balance control so through the left speaker you have one interpretation and another through the right speaker. Together in stereo, it’s a glorious mess!”
Some Other Wonder is a breathtaking musical high at the album’s mid-point, written on a rickety old piano gifted to Lane. Lane has been playing guitar on and off with Hitchcock since 2015 and they hooked up for a tour of the UK in 2019. The song features an extraordinary vocal contribution from Hitchcock recorded in London, and Georgia Mooney from All Our Exes Live in Texas provides a celestial harmony part. The song is completed with a widescreen orchestral string arrangement by Australian composer Tilman Robinson. Lane says: “It started out as something Brian Wilson-y that morphed into a place of its own.”
Todd Rundgren is the author of timeless pop gems such as I Saw the Light and Can We Still Be Friends? as well as producer of dozens of albums by artists from Badfinger and Sparks to XTC. Of course, Lane is both fan and student of his work and was thrilled to be asked to put a band together for Rundgren to play some shows in Australia. After those shows, Lane sent some songs to see what he thought and Acceptance, with Todd on vocals, blasts from the speakers with all the force of a Rundgren hit.
Another song from their collaboration will appear on a Todd Rundgren record.
The album concludes with I’m Yer Wonder Fool, a sublime vocal collaboration between Lane and Tim Rogers, yet a song that finds a fresh musical path.
“Tim and I have propped each other up through countless ups and downs. He was my hero when I was 13 years old, he has been my bandmate for 20 years. He is my best mate and he helped me through a lot of the stuff that was going on as I was writing these songs. To me, it sounds like we have our arms around each other’s shoulders as we skip off into the sunset.”
You Were a Mirage is out now. Don’t Bank Your Heart On It is released on November 13.